Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Robert Donmoyer, Ph.D., Committee Chairperson; Lea Hubbard, Ph.D., Committee Member; Maya Kalyanpur, Ph.D., Committee Member


Special Education, Disability, Inclusion, Educational Equity, Administrator Preparation


Special education has been part of public education for 46 years and has evolved considerably in that time. Despite improvements made in special education law, there remains a disconnect between law and current practices. Several studies suggest this disconnect is associated with administrators’ insufficient preparation for supporting special education in their schools.

This study utilized an explanatory sequential design to study Southern California school principals’ special education preparation. During the first phase of the study, the researcher emailed surveys to administrators who were selected using a stratified random sampling strategy. Unfortunately, the response rate was too low to employ the regression analysis strategy stipulated in the study’s design. Rather the survey results were used to identify administrators to interview during the second, qualitative phase of the study. Four administrators were selected to be interviewed and agreed to participate. Case studies were used to present the interview data, and emergent themes were identified during a cross-case analysis.

This study’s findings are consistent with the current literature’s suggestion that administrative credential programs do not adequately educate administrators about special education’s historical and legislative context or effectively prepare them to support their special education departments. However, the purpose of this study was to identify specific areas of weakness that currently exist in order to generate solutions and promote the development of successful administrative strategies. All four administrators reported a lack of contextual experiences as a significant weakness in their credential programs and suggested their personal/professional experiences throughout their careers were the most influential factor in their leadership development for special education. This finding suggests that more contextualized experiences, e.g., principal shadowing, should be added to formal principal preparation programs. Simulations such as problem-based learning scenarios might also be employed in the preparation classroom.

Additionally, although not explicitly stated as weaknesses in their credential programs, all four administrators highlighted the importance of relationship-building and demonstrating initiative in their leadership practice to better serve their special education departments. These emergent themes suggest two additional topics to attend to in both pre-service and in-service principal development programs.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies